Jimmy (part 1)
You feel like you're being watched—studied, even—but you're alone, six feet under.
Since your invisible stalker turns up when you're alone, you call him Jimmy, which means 'supplanter'. Jimmy is your substitute for loneliness. Jimmy is yours. Jimmy is powerful.
Jimmy is making you insane.
He should know what it's like to be afraid. After all, he has what he calls 'death bugs' under his skin. "It's not just the prickling and the tingling," he'd told you. "It's like everything I've ever worked for, everything I've ever wanted or loved, has left me to die. They chew at my nerves, suck my blood, play a vigorous game of tag in the dark. They get me to itch, dig for them, tear away what's left of me. The bugs go deep, you know. Some of them creep, like little thieves. It's torture. Let me ask you: have you ever died?"
You should be used to this, though. Jimmy's been around since the Cure. His presence has been much more intense lately, though, huh. Like he's becoming a physical being.
That, and he's been trying to kill you.
On the plus side, the dirt down here doesn't bother you as much as it should. You're studying the element Earth in school, so you've made yourself a capsule. I'd say good thinking, but your oxygen is running out.
Getting to your feet, you claw at the dirt on either side of you and call out for anyone. Jimmy narrows his eyes at the fear in your tone. You feel it?
With laboured breathing, you try to climb one wall, bashing your fists to make holes for grabbing. If you get high enough, you'll be able to reach the ceiling of dirt and make more room to get out. Sucks you haven't honed your skills enough yet to be able to do that from here.
"Talon?" a muffled, disembodied voice calls.
No way. "Down here!"
The faint yelling continues.
Shit, I can't breathe. Hey, wait, hold on. You grunt and slam like a madman, calling out a few more times. Jimmy just watches, probably amused.
A plea to him for help gets wedged in your throat. It smells foul down here.
This can't be happening. You're so close to a rescue.
You back off and close your eyes, concentrating on your Inner Energy—as your Physics Manipulations teacher calls it—and let it move through you like electricity. With a bellow, you throw your fist to the dirt at your feet and the ceiling caves in.
"We got you, buddy," a boy says. Dad?
Your eyes open just enough to spot Victoria's blurred image. Her eyes are shut tight, she's biting her lip, and her palms are outstretched your way.
Everything goes black.
Victoria's worry-ridden face materializes. Then Lonei's.
"Oh," Vic gasps, teary-eyed. "Thank the heavens you're alive." She wraps her arms around you tight, as you try to gain a sense of reality.
You guys are in a graveyard that rims the woods, right next to the hole you were in, and the moonlight is kissing the trees and gravestones. Your bikes are just feet away.
"Dude," Lonei says in a pestering tone, and then blows out smoke. "How did you end up in a grave?"
You run your fingers through your hair. You can't tell them it was Jimmy. You're not even sure how he managed it. For all you know, he could just be a piece of your imagination. Sharing a glance between them, you settle with, "I fell in."
Lonei takes a drag, his eyes squinted with scepticism. "Let me rephrase my question. Why did you end up in a grave?"
He's got you now. "Are we gonna play twenty-one questions all night or get out of here?" Hmm, smart.
Lonei smirks, a look he plays well and often. Is he masking a feeling of inferiority or defeat? Does he want something? Is he just plain stupid? You don't know, and you don't care.
Vic helps you to your feet and you all walk toward the bikes, Lonei flicking his cigarette butt into the underbrush.
You hang on to Jimmy's words, frustrated that you still can't decipher what he meant by "Have you ever died?" You think it could be another way of saying he's afraid the death bugs will kill him—or cause him suicide—but you're not sure.
Your heads turn to the voice. All eyes narrow in the beam of a CircuLight, your face grimier than theirs. You didn't know CircuLights still existed, they shouldn't. In the late 2030s, a serum was created and then injected into a group of volunteer lab rats. Circulights transmuted over the agonizing course of six months. Do you remember? It was a popular, convenient experiment. Unfortunately, however, they caused problems to the brain, killing off 92% of those suckers. You suppose this man was able to somehow retain its benefits. Or, he could be an advanced Electrolite; Energy elementals are strong.
"You can't be here. Private property," the man says, a broad figure, a shadow.
"We were just leaving," Lonei says, hands up over his head.
"No, you lot are coming with me."
As the man inches closer, Victoria extends her hand to him and a patch of grass and dirt flies up in his face. He grunts, the light waving around. She looks at you, and I know you can't see it yet, but her eyes are filled with regret.
Lonei is already on the run, and Victoria grabs your hand to follow suit.
"Hey! All of you, get back here!"
Your heart is racing. What have you done? More concerning, what's so secretive about an open graveyard?
Do you hear the man chasing you? Wheezing from many years of smoking and a resulted heart condition?
He's getting closer.
Lonei lifts his bike and straddles it as Victoria pulls hers off the tree trunk and throws a leg over. You scramble to lift yours, but it won't budge.
What the hell? Get up!
You pull and pull and it just lays there, like a block of cement.
"You can't get away, boy," the man says, his voice close.
It's gotta be Jimmy doing this. You're sure of it.
You spin around, prepare to accept your capture, but then turn back in a last fit of hope and kick the bike. The contortion of your face is gruesome.
Your bike moves, and you ignore the throbbing pain in your toes as you reach to pick it up. Just as you straddle it, kick up the peg and let out a breath you didn't realize you were holding, the man hauls you back to the ground.
You roll to face him. He stands over you, legs shoulder-width apart, and huffs. He sniffles as he wipes his jacket sleeve over his nose. His CircuLight's got you, your eyes glistening teal. Your arm shields them.
He touches his temple, saying, "6-60 niner. Boy, rugged, probably Earthliat, 6-60."
Earthliat. You're no Earthliat. You're studying Earth, not graduated.
Subconsciously surrendering, you survey your surroundings. The stars are beaming tonight—something you never notice. Jimmy is gone, one with the sky. You can almost catch a glimpse of his face—a face, any face you take to be his—but that imaginary glimpse blends like a constellation. What do you want from me?
You peek over your shoulder. An inventory path stretches into further underbrush and trees that graze the sky, leaves rustling, thin branches creaking. Bike tracks in the mud, and the broken twigs they nestle, are all that's left of your friends. Some friends.
"Up," the man says, and you look at him. His CircuLight is off. A circular face, like that of what you once knew to be a flashlight, crystallized and haunting, adorns his forehead, centred. "Up, brat!"
You rise, not bothering to dust yourself off. The man grabs your upper arm and you tense up, shrugging his grip off with more force than you intended. He sneers, attempting to grab you again.
You back away. "Don't touch me."
"Wrists out, then."
Glaring at him, you extend your touching wrists. He waves his hand over them, and you jerk, a sound of pain lurching in your throat. A thin, electric band materializes around them.
"Too tight," you say, lying.
"Too bad." His eyes go off someplace else as you both walk between gravestones. He picks at his teeth, points, and then adds, "Just up there."
You roll your eyes under your eyelashes, focusing on the ground, trying not to get your good shoes stuck in the mud. Which I don't understand, by the way, because you can manipulate earth elements with decent control. You could clean yourself off with a blink of your eyes.
A bird squawks, fluttering its dark, broad wings, shaking a few branches, freeing a few leaves. You look up as it disappears behind a building. It's fenced, covered in ivy, and filled with high posts. You've never seen it before. Never heard of any fenced up building on the far side of a graveyard. The world has come to change—bad change, in your opinion—run by a man too blind to see, too deaf to hear, too vain to reason.
"What's that building?"
The man lends you a sideways glance before looking at it. Then he looks away. "Your question baffles me."
You roll your eyes. "That building. What's it for, officer?"
"I dislike your tone, boy."
The corner of your mouth twitches. "No tone. Just curious."
You take another look at the building as you both pass it. There are no occupants: no residents, no guards. Only some birds. The windows are shielded with metal sheets. The ground and walls are dank, musty, and chilly up close. There's no smoke pluming from the top. You figure it's empty.
The walk to the hilltop is voiceless. Though, twigs and dry leaves crunch beneath two pairs of shoes. Maybe you can go invisible—if only you could remember the technique from that whisper of a lesson two months ago, the one about manipulating air to dematerialize like a ghost. But no, scientists and university students study it. Maybe you could run, then, using rocks from anywhere to stop or knock out the chasing man.
You follow him, trekking up the hill. Atop it is a platform, grey and weatherbeaten. Electric bolts are sparking around it. You can hear the static.
Scared, you pause.
The man hadn't noticed you stop and continues toward it.
"What is this?"
He turns, then tuts. "Get over here, now."
You take a step back. "Not until you tell me what's happening."
"I swear to you now, boy, if you do not get over here—"
You approach him, eyeing the plat. It sizzles louder.
The man chuckles, studying the apprehension in you. "Ah, man, I love my job." He crosses his arms over his bulky, black ammunition-proof vest and the ray guns in its pockets.
You open your mouth to say something, but then he says, "This is a transporter."
Ah, yes, you've heard of those. The military uses them, and is now growing on the police forces in all of the Occident—not yet the Western world. All you gotta do is stand on it. The officer will type in a few codes, use his Inner Energy—or, in special cases, dematerializing forces—to manipulate microscopic trajectory and BAM, you're wherever he wants you to be. If only you can stop your gut from summersaulting to take it all in.
He waves his hand toward the platform and a force pulls you onto it. You're weight feels lighter, but your feet are planted, stuck. The man crouches in front of the attached, glowing, glass-looking panel. Light blue squares and rectangles with rounded corners run along the sides, and dark blue circles and ovals, with white numbers and letters in them, take up the middle. You watch as he taps and swipes.
Then he stands with a groan. "Brace yourself." He grins, stepping back, and you focus on his crooked teeth with worried eyes.
A bright blue light grows around you, veiling the world, and what feels like a million of bolts of electricity take over your insides. You feel like you're falling a few feet per second, then everything goes black.